LOMBARD—A Feb. 12 snowstorm closed airports and socked in travelers along the East Coast, preventing Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, from reaching a prayer service at Sacred Heart Parish in Lombard to rally supporters seeking an end to legalized abortion in the United States.
Persistence is the key word when it comes to describing a crowd of pro-lifers who scrambled at the last minute for guest speakers. Father James Heyd, a Chicago member of the Priests for Life organization, and Yvonne Florczak-Seeman, board member for Woman’s Choice Services, took seriously the opportunity to pinch-hit for Father Pavone.
Having joined the organization full time last year, the former vocation director at St. Joseph Seminary at Loyola University Chicago, Father Heyd nurtured the flock first by leading what he calls the Holy Hour for Life, which featured praise and worship to the Lord and the Blessed Mother.
The message behind his pro-life outreach remains upbeat. Although Roe vs. Wade continues as the law of the land in regard to abortion, he pointed out that the recent confirmation of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court brings the total number of Catholics to five. Father Heyd said he hopes their faith will influence opinions written in relation to abortion-related cases. However, the battle is not being waged at the federal level alone, he said. Citing the fact that previous to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, New York and California already had authorized abortion procedures. He informed the group that even if federal protection were eventually diminished, the matter would not dissolve entirely. “It will happen state-by-state. The real battle of democracy and speaking out is on the local level,” he said. Already, residents of South Dakota have instigated an initiative to halt the practice of abortions in that state. The spotlight is currently on Rhode Island, where 60 percent of the population has declared an allegiance to Catholicism. Father Heyd said he is hoping for an anti-abortion ballot initiative there as well.
Meanwhile, Father Heyd said he believes that today’s Catholic Church is better equipped to handle the pernicious reach of abortion and euthanasia, a topic that the state of Oregon has shed light on. Vatican encyclicals and documents are available to clarify the church’s position on the matter. “There’s less confusion,” he added. The faithful have concrete explanations that express in detail the depth of the church’s position concerning the dignity of life. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Gospel of Life, detailed the matter from the moment of conception to the grave, he said. In addition, church-related organizations, including Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, support groups, pro-life crisis centers and more are accessible to men, women and families afflicted with the pain of abortion. The negative effects of 33 years of legalized abortion in the United States need to be addressed in a faithful manner, he said. In response, the church has become more welcoming. The church is not concerned with the law alone; it has spread its arms to support people with matters of faith and actions. “Above all, we need to hear their stories. … We need to pray for those caught up in the web of destruction…. Through love, they will come to know the dignity of every life.”
Father Heyd expressed confidence in “God’s creative love” as a way to heal the wounded and to soften the hearts of those hardened by a variety of life’s circumstances. He asked the congregation to bow their heads while he prayed, “For all the victims of the culture of death that they be welcomed in eternal peace.” Later, Father Heyd criticized the “violent culture” as it is depicted on television, video games and the Internet in the United States and around the world for desensitizing people to the idea of death due to abortion. However, he voiced confidence in the fact that God would overcome “diehards” with an ideological outlook that minimizes life.
As an organization, Priests for Life is preparing to expand its focus on life issues by opposing executions. “One day we’ll be out front of an abortion clinic,” and the next, the group intends a show of solidarity on the dignity of life by protesting the death penalty, he said. “The death penalty is part of the larger compendium,” he said, but the organization would center on abortion issues.
Priestly leaders are crucial in this effort. Believers are looking for priests to take a firm stand and to address issues such as spirituality and sexuality, according to Father Heyd.
In addition, the real depth of the wounds related to abortion is beginning to come to the fore. After years of exclusion from the conversation, Father Heyd said, men finally have been drawn into the topic of abortion. Before, it was a woman’s body and a woman’s issue, he said. Men were essentially eliminated from the discussion.
The personal testimony from Florczak-Seeman of Westmont emphasized how confusion and self-deception worked in her case to minimize the life of the baby in her womb. At the age of 42, she publicly shared the pain and guilt she suffered for years before she felt “God’s healing” in the aftermath of five separate abortions. As a young woman, she said, medical references to a growing baby, such as “a mass of cells,” hid from her the image of a baby growing inside. Today, the wife and mother of three children said she is so grateful for God’s forgiveness and healing that she has committed herself to sharing the truth about abortion. “Fact, women regret abortion,” she said, affirming her refusal to keep “silent no more.”
Afterward, numerous advocates gathered in small clusters, participating in private conversations about the abortion issue, a circumstance that served as proof that the prayer service inspired a rally cry to promote the dignity of life. Lingering in the aisle, Cynthia Crane of Wheaton was huddled with her daughter, 15-year-old Jillian Crane, and friend Wheaton’s Judy Kubica. Although they came to hear the words of Father Pavone, they were not disappointed. Florczak-Seeman’s witness was particularly heart wrenching. Cynthia related that when she was carrying her daughter, doctors informed her that chronic immune deficiencies coupled with the pregnancy could hamper her health. The doctors advised her to get an abortion, but the expectant mother refused. Smiling at the child who is now a sophomore at St. Francis High School in Wheaton, Cynthia claims her daughter has added to her life’s fulfillment.